OMAHA – New species of pests are making their way across the United States and into the Midwest. With the heat of summer quickly approaching, an increase of disease-carrying bugs such as ticks, mosquitoes and kissing bugs may pose a serious health threat. Theodore Burk, PhD, professor of Animal Behavior, Entomology and Behavioral Ecology at Creighton University, says awareness and precautions are key to avoiding bites that could lead to a serious health condition or disease. He highlights a few need-to-know tips when dealing with ticks, mosquitoes and kissing bugs.
Ticks – The Lone Star tick is new to southeastern Nebraska. It is easily identifiable by the white spot on its back. Its bite can cause severe allergic reactions to red meat for some. The American dog tick is more commonly found in the eastern Nebraska area and can sometimes carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Tularemia. Outside of Nebraska, the CDC has been actively monitoring a new tick species to the U.S. – the Asian longhaired tick. Native to eastern Asia and Korea, it has been found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. In other countries, bites from these ticks can make people and animals seriously ill. Research is still underway, but the CDC reports no harmful germs have been found in the ticks collected in the U.S. Additionally, Dr. Burk says the risk of picking up Lyme disease from a tick on a hike in Nebraska is small, but cautions those travelling outside of Nebraska to stay vigilant.
Dr. Burk recommends wearing long pants, using a repellent with at least 20% DEET and diligently looking for ticks after time spent outdoors. If you have children, Dr. Burk recommends parents apply insect repellent instead of allowing children to apply it themselves. Follow label instructions carefully. If you find a tick that has started to feed, remove it carefully with tweezers as partial removal could cause a bacterial infection.
Mosquitoes – Dr. Burk says there are two types of mosquitoes to be aware of. The first type is the flood water mosquito, which many in the Midwest worry will breed rapidly this summer due to recent flooding. However, their eggs hatch better when the water of a flooded area recedes. If the area is underwater for a long period of time, the eggs may not hatch. The second type is the Culex mosquito, a high-population mosquito that caused Nebraska to lead the nation in deadly cases of West Nile virus in 2018.
Dr. Burk recommends taking precautions to prevent any and all mosquito bites, including use of repellent, avoidance of outside time during dawn or dusk when mosquitoes are most active and rapid removal of any standing water on your property. Standing water is a breeding ground for Culex mosquitoes, and they do not travel far once bred. Removing standing water can drastically help control the population in your immediate area.
Kissing bugs – Kissing bugs are bloodsuckers found in the southwestern U.S. that carry Chagas’ Disease. While the disease is native to Latin America, cases are increasingly present in the U.S. The bug’s name is derived from its habit of biting people near the eyes and mouth. While they haven’t yet reached Nebraska, anyone traveling should take precaution. Dr. Burk says these are large bugs that are easy to identify. The kissing bug is approximately an inch long and has a long beak.